When I first came to Delhi in the early nineties, I was told that people from the Left and liberal groups are ahead of others in art and communication. But this has changed. The advertisements of the Modi government are as sophisticated and modern as that of the liberals. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has adopted the same language, the same genre. The difference that used to be created through art, through sloganeering, has been blurred. In fact, at the moment, no one is better at communications than the RSS and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Conventionally, Modi is given credit for the modern gloss to BJP’s communication, its use of the internet and social media. But part of the credit must go to the RSS. It was quick to take to the internet, as Professor Vinay Lal has documented in a study. The first off the block were the overseas Hindu groups that would send angry emails to newsrooms. They would not let a single idea slip without contention.

Then, they took to social media. Even before the Anna Hazare movement, if you were seen as criticising the BJP, people would pounce on you, abuse you. If they feel you are “anti” as per their framework, they will start to demolish you personally. No one from the organisation will attack you. But their supporters will.

Through a binary lens

When they cannot think of anything else, they will call you a “dalal”. If you look up the Twitter profiles of the people calling you a broker, you will find they are using symbols of Hindutva, sometimes even the flag of RSS. Earlier, there was hesitation in owning up to an RSS identity, but now people advertise it. I do not know if such aggressive and abusive language is coming with the approval of the organization, but it is definitely coming from an ideological stream which is quick to label people “anti-Hindu”. Now they go around calling people “anti-Modi”. They have created a binary. Either you are “anti-RSS” or “pro-RSS”. You might agree with the RSS on some things and disagree on others. You might like the Congress on some counts but not on others. But there is no space for thoughtful political choice. The world has been divided into “pro” and “anti” camps.

It is normal for people to criticise journalists. An individual might disagree with a report, might take objection to it, find a contestable point. But now there is a collective that descends on you through social media and accuses you of wheeling-dealing every time you report something that does not fit into their worldview.

If 100 people are abusing you on social media, 90 of them share the same ideology. Seeing their large numbers and synchronised behaviour, it seems this is happening in an organised way. This is an assumption, of course. I do not have any evidence. It seems they want to marginalise you, to force you to leave social media. Is this a carefully deliberated strategy? We do not know because we do not cover the RSS.

The RSS and the BJP are not separate. Anyone who thinks so is mistaken. The BJP has come from the womb of the RSS. The RSS runs the party. Without it, the BJP would still be squabbling over who would the prime minister. And yet, we have a horde of journalists covering the BJP and nearly none covering the RSS. The main organisation that needs to be covered is the RSS.

Lulled with idea of development

Take the issue of conversions. People are saying Modi does not agree with the RSS on the issue. But where has he condemned it? They say he is upset over what is happening and that is why he has chosen to be silent. But his silence could also mean that he cannot say anything that goes against the RSS. He cannot oppose the RSS.

At the time of the general elections, when there was a debate over Modi as prime minister, the BJP and the RSS did not even hint at any such issue (conversions). They kept pushing the idea of development. The RSS put in as much thought into the election strategy as Modi. It chose to communicate through people who are not its members but who support it ideologically. This could be a film star, a retired army officer, a retired civil servant – people who carry liberal weight in society and yet endorse the RSS ideology. They would talk of development but in the same breath they would say, “Hindu hone mein koi burayi nahi”. It serves as an endorsement for the RSS because no one talks about the Hindu identity with as much force as the RSS.

And yet, the truth is that many people voted for Modi simply because they thought he could deliver development. What could they have done? They could not have voted for the corruption of the Congress. They made the best choice they thought they could. But now instead of debating the merits and demerits of smart cities or the Adarsh Gram Yojana, we are debating Godse and conversions.

Liberals must communicate better

It is natural for the winners and their ideas to get more space in the media. The RSS did not get the same space when the BJP was not in power. When power shifts, the media scales tend to tilt. But the reason why the RSS and its supporters are winning the debates is because they come better prepared and speak with great force and seriousness. On my show, I find that speaker number one, who is representing the ruling party, comes armed with facts and arguments. Speaker number two and three who are supposed to counter him simply say “yeh RSS ka agenda hai, yeh desh ke liye khatarnak hai” (This is RSS agenda, it is dangerous for the country). It is no longer enough to say just that. Your viewer is not Mani Shankar Aiyar. You need to tell him why this is dangerous.

The BJP is winning state after state. The political opposition is weak and comatose. But even the liberal intelligentsia is not working hard to counter them in the realm of ideas. For one, it is scattered and not organized. Two, the liberal intellectual feels whatever needs to be said has already been said in the nineties. But there is a new generation in our midst. You need to communicate with them in a different way. The RSS has not stopped reinventing its communications. The ideas it was circulating in the 1990s, it continues to circulate in the 21st century in a different form. So why have the others stopped?

It is said jo chowk mein behas jeet gaya, politics uski hoti hai (whoever wins the debate on the street, dominates politics). Liberal thinkers need to meet the intellectual challenge being thrown at them. If the RSS and BJP supporters have started a debate on conversions, someone needs to ask them about Udit Raj who has joined their party. He had converted to Buddhism from Hinduism. Is that wrong? What about the lakhs of people who converted to Buddhism not far from the RSS headquarters in Nagpur? The liberals cannot run away from debate, they have to deal with it. If they say an anti-conversion law is against the Constitution, they have to explain why.

RSS carries on unfazed

But there is no denying that such debates are making many ordinary people very nervous. Those from minority communities are fearful. Even those from the majority community find themselves questioning their support for Modi. Nothing dented their faith in Modi – not even the government’s U-turn over bringing back black money. But now, for the first time, they are wondering if they made the right choice. Modi, the master communicator, must be surely aware of this. But the RSS does not care. It knows it has won the election. The victory is not Modi’s alone. If you deny this, you are being cruel to the lakhs of swayamsevaks who worked so hard during the election.

Still, I would say Indian society is mostly secular even though it finds the term “secular” annoying. Everyone is celebrating Christmas. Even those who talk of a Hindu rashtra are going out and buying Santa hats for their children.

As told to Supriya Sharma.